Should councillors manage their own social media?
There is no doubt managing social media profiles as a sitting councillor is a lot of work. Social media is quickly becoming a valuable form of communication with the local community for our councils, while ratepayers expectations that councillors will engage and inform via social media is growing.
The problem is the majority of Queensland’s councillors have little time and few resources to help them manage their social media accounts. Unlike their State or Federal counterparts, few local government representatives have staff to help them manage their social media. As a result of Operation Belcarra, they also have stricter guidelines to abide by and a spotlight on recordkeeping practices.
One solution put forward is that divisional or ward social media profiles should be established and managed by council staff on behalf of councillors. The argument goes that councils would benefit from the location-targeted accounts and provide customer service to ratepayers. It would also address concerns about inappropriate behaviour by councillors on social media and allow for streamlined recordkeeping practices.
But is that a good idea for councillors? In a word, nope.
The main argument in favour of keeping councillors’ profiles at arm’s length from the council is the use of council resources. If a council is investing resources or time into councillors’ social media accounts, then those accounts shouldn’t be used for political purposes. If council did manage pages for councillors during their time in office:
Councillors would need to set up a separate Facebook page or social media profile for campaigning. Not only would the sitting councillor benefit from the audience they could grow during their time in office, but there would also be confusion over the duplicate pages, and the secondary accounts would still be subject to the same recordkeeping provisions and rules if they post or receive anything related to council business.
Sitting councillors would be disadvantaged compared to their opponents come election time, as they wouldn’t be able to use social media to campaign as the council-linked pages would be locked down.
There would be questions around who owned the account’s audience. If a councillor loses their seat, changes division, runs for Mayor, or steps up to the state or federal arena, should they be entitled to keep an audience built with the support of ratepayers’ funds?
So while handing over their account would save a councillor some effort in the short term, it would be politically stupid to lose the benefits of an independent social media presence.
Protecting the reputation of the council
Over the years, I’ve had some council staff ask (usually in jest) what can be done to control what councillors do on social media. The answer is quite a lot!
New guidelines have warned councillors the Code of Conduct for Queensland Councillors equally applies to online behaviour and explicitly states councillors should take care that their comments do not reflect adversely on the reputation of the council or local government generally.
While politicians can use social media for personal use and campaigning, ultimately it is a council’s CEO who determines how sitting councillors can use social media to conduct council business.
establishing social media guidelines for councillors
determining what council resources or staff (if any) may be used for monitoring and updating social media profiles
approving what social media platforms, technologies and apps elected representatives are permitted to use for council business
setting adequate recordkeeping requirements, including what is a public record and how it should be recorded and stored
You may believe the easiest way to achieve these goals is for council staff to have access to councillors’ social media for these purposes, but this is dangerous territory.
Handing out admin or editor access to a political account opens the door to accusations of sabotage, censorship, sharing inappropriate content and blame. Considering how high the stakes are for councillors at this time, it is entirely understandable that councillors would have concerns about opening their accounts up to council staff.
While monitoring councillors’ social media pages and looking after the record-keeping requirements is something councils can (and should) take on, elected representatives should keep control over their own accounts.
Don’t forget the voters
Of course, we shouldn’t forget about the voters in all of this. Like the rest of the world, Queensland residents are increasingly getting their news from social media and how a candidate conducts themselves online helps voters make up their mind. It is important that councillors are given the freedom to make their own mistakes on social media.
Voters (and the media) judge politicians on their social media use. If councillors have adequate training and awareness of what is required of them, they should have the freedom to express themselves authentically, no matter the consequences to their career. Ultimately, it is their brand and they should be responsible for it.
Cinc Social Media director, Kate Wilson has worked with a number of Queensland councillors and councils to create social media policies and strategies. She has also provided group and bespoke training for councillors and staff covering content creation, campaign strategies and community management.
Contact Kate to discuss how Cinc Social Media can help you grow your social media.